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NISSAN: A big lift from light trucks

U.S. sales of crossovers and pickups in March gave Nissan and Infiniti brands their best sales months ever.

Nissan’s Rogue compact crossover surged 43 percent to 39,512 units for the month, making it the best-selling nonpickup nameplate in the industry.

Nissan North America, including both brands, sold 168,832 vehicles in March, a 3.2 percent increase from March 2016.

Infiniti sales jumped 33 percent to 18,266. Nissan brand increased just 0.5 percent to 150,566 as weak car sales offset most of the truck-side gains.

Judy Wheeler, Nissan brand vice president of U.S. sales, observed that there is still life in the sedan segment -- the Maxima large sedan’s sales increased 5.7 percent to 6,961 for the month, and the electric Leaf’s sales climbed 19 percent to 1,478.

But Nissan brand cars as a whole fell 16 percent.

Meanwhile, on the truck side of the brand’s ledger, sales rose 23 percent. The recently freshened Pathfinder midsize crossover rose 20 percent to 10,442.

“Consumers are going to buy what consumers want to buy,” Wheeler said. “They want crossovers and you’re better off to embrace that.”

Sales of the Nissan Titan full-size pickup also boosted the automaker’s March, more than quadrupling to 5,539 from 1,274 a year earlier.

Wheeler said the Titan is benefiting from Nissan’s strategy of slowly establishing the pickup in key markets before expanding marketing efforts nationwide.

In March, Nissan focused heavily on marketing the Titan in four markets where dealers are most engaged in selling the truck: Houston, Dallas, Phoenix and Salt Lake City.

She said Nissan also began leasing the Titan for the first time in March.

“That’s something our competitors do,” she said. “You have to be in the market to the same degree to be on customers’ consideration list.”

Infiniti’s record March volume was helped by two factors, according to Infiniti spokesman Kyle Bazemore: the company’s annual marketing push during the college basketball tournament and the availability of two new or redesigned products, the Q60 compact coupe and the QX30 subcompact crossover.

The Q60 was in sell-down mode in March 2016 as Infiniti prepared to launch a redesign. This year’s sales totaled 1,829, vs. 105 a year earlier. The new QX30 delivered 2,960 sales for the month.

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com

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